Hate Speech, the Priority of Liberty, and the Temptations of Nonideal Theory

Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 15 (3):353-68 (2012)
Abstract
Are government restrictions on hate speech consistent with the priority of liberty? This relatively narrow policy question will serve as the starting point for a wider discussion of the use and abuse of nonideal theory in contemporary political philosophy, especially as practiced on the academic left. I begin by showing that hate speech (understood as group libel) can undermine fair equality of opportunity for historically-oppressed groups but that the priority of liberty seems to forbid its restriction. This tension between free speech and equal opportunity creates a dilemma for liberal egalitarians. Nonideal theory apparently offers an escape from this dilemma, but after examining three versions of such an escape strategy, I conclude that none is possible: liberal egalitarians are indeed forced to choose between liberty and equality in this case and others. I finish the paper by examining its implications for other policy arenas, including markets in transplantable human organs and women’s reproductive services.
Keywords hate speech  priority of liberty  nonideal theory  John Rawls  equality of opportunity
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    Richard J. Arneson (1992). Property Rights in Persons. Social Philosophy and Policy 9 (01):201-.

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